Though the assignment of state bar numbers to attorneys licensed in Michigan has become customary, it was not always so. Professional
numbers, or “P numbers,” were first assigned to Michigan lawyers in 1974
. At the time, many protested the idea. Some attorneys likened it to George Orwell’s 1984
, claiming Big Brother would be keeping tabs on legal professionals. The rumor mill worked overtime in the years that followed. Attorneys thought that the Michigan Supreme Court was going to use P numbers to track
each attorney’s cases in order to implement rules limiting the number of cases a lawyer could handle. Others
took it a step further and believed that P numbers were going to be used to monitor and locate attorneys’ daily court appearances. Nevertheless, the court pressed forward with the assignment of P numbers. Even the Michigan Court Rules were amended to mandate the use of your name, business address, telephone number, and P number on every caption of every pleading. MCR 2.113(C)(1)
Why did the State Bar of Michigan issue P numbers instead of just using names? “A number of attorneys have the same first, middle, and last names.” The P number also preserves a level of anonymity. It seems innocent enough. Now, over 40 years later, it is clear that the State Bar of Michigan had no Orwellian intent when it implemented P numbers.
- Some numbers were intentionally not assigned to licensed attorneys, such as the “devilish” P66666, which was given to a Texas corporation.
- Once a number is assigned, it is never reused or revoked. A P number is always retired after assignment, making your number much more special.
- P numbers were initially assigned alphabetically to lawyers practicing at the time, and the numbers had no correlation to how long any attorney had been in practice. Although P10001 was the first and lowest number, it did not necessarily mean that individual attorney had practiced the longest.
- In the 1990s, some companies that conducted business with the state bar, law students who were never admitted, and legal clerical staff were also assigned P numbers. So a P number is not your license to practice law.